Thu, 24 Sep 2020

A surge in injuries in Super Rugby Aotearoa has seen questions raised over New Zealand's rushed return to play.In South Africa, professional franchises have not yet started taking contact at training.The enforced break has given a number of Springboks an opportunity to recover from injury.

It is widely accepted that, if they do participate in the 2020 Rugby Championship, the world champion Springboks will start their tournament title defence on the back foot against their New Zealand and Australian rivals.

Super Rugby Aotearoa (New Zealand) has staged eight weeks of competition already with Super Rugby AU (Australia) now five weeks in.

In South Africa, where the coronavirus crisis has demanded far more drastic government regulation, professional franchises are still training in groups of no more than five players at a time, with no contact allowed.

There is currently no confirmed date regarding a return to play in South Africa, with a Currie Cup that could start in September the likeliest avenue.

It means that, when the Rugby Championship gets underway on 7 November - likely to be in New Zealand - the Springboks will have played significantly less rugby than the All Blacks and Wallabies and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has already confirmed his traveling squad could be as large as 45 given the fear of players being undercooked.

But while New Zealand has been lauded for its handling of the coronavirus and while the country was able to stage competitive matches in front of full stadiums from 13 June, they are also paying the price.

New Zealand teams had less than five weeks to prepare for Super Rugby Aotearoa, and the surge in injuries in that tournament is suggesting that the Boks and South Africa's Super Rugby stars might not be as disadvantaged as initially predicted in being forced into taking their time in returning to play.

Ngani Laumape, Fraser Armstrong (both Hurricanes), Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs), Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Ethan Blackadder and Scott Barrett (all Crusaders) have all gone down since the Aotearoa product began.

At the Stormers, for example, the lockdown has given star Boks Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Herschel Jantjies a chance to recover from their respective injuries.

Make no mistake, players would always rather be playing than sidelined, but given the high workload demands in the current game, this enforced pause does have its silver linings.

"For most players, I think it was a good time to regroup and recover. I think in the long run, something like the lockdown could be beneficial for your career and lengthen it," 22-year-old Stormers lock Salmaan Moerat said on Wednesday.

"It's important that we create a good base before we start playing again. I'm sure we'll be given around five weeks of contact training before we start playing again and that should be good for us, especially concerning injuries.

"For forwards, the amount of contact we take these days is really high. I truly believe this is something that could benefit us, but at the same time we need to be smart about it and prepare our bodies to get back to rugby again."

When quizzed on the injuries seen in New Zealand in recent weeks, Moerat was hopeful South Africa's extended break would see franchises minimise their injury count when play did eventually resume.

"That's testimony to the fact that New Zealand teams might have started a bit earlier," he said.

"I'm speaking under correction, but they may have had about a four-week pre-season before they started playing.

"What's really good about SA Rugby is that we're preparing ourselves for a longer pre-season which is really good for all the players.

"Hopefully, we can lower our injury rate coming out of this lockdown and for South Africa as a whole, if we can have our best players on the field, then at the end of the day the Springboks can have their best players on the field."

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